Futures and Options

Just another town along the road.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On moral busybodies

Those who would seek to mandate anything for another person’s “own good” would do well to remember the following quote from C. S. Lewis:

Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

posted by Zenmervolt at 18:47  

Friday, June 12, 2009

Welcome to the California Confederacy

First of all, for everyone who thinks that “confederacy” means cotton and slaves:

Main Entry:
14th century

1: a league or compact for mutual support or common action : alliance
2: a combination of persons for unlawful purposes : conspiracy

With that out of the way, the California predicted in Heinlein’s novel, Friday, may well be here already.  The article in The Economist points out some of the inherent problems in democracy and shows how these issues have come to a head in California:

California has a unique combination of features which, individually, are shared by other states but collectively cause dysfunction. These begin with the requirement that any budget pass both houses of the legislature with a two-thirds majority. Two other states, Rhode Island and Arkansas, have such a law. But California, where taxation and budgets are determined separately, also requires two-thirds majorities for any tax increase. Twelve other states demand this. Only California, however, has both requirements.

If its representative democracy functioned well, that might not be so debilitating. But it does not. Only a minority of Californians bother to vote

So, first we have a problem resulting from an overly-restrictive method of budgeting that is compounded by the fact that fewer than 50% of Californians can even be bothered to vote.  The article then continues:

Those voters, moreover, have over time “self-sorted” themselves into highly partisan districts: loony left in Berkeley or Santa Monica, for instance; rabid right in Orange County or parts of the Central Valley. Politicians have done the rest by gerrymandering bizarre boundaries around their supporters. The result is that elections are won during the Republican or Democratic primaries, rather than in run-offs between the two parties. This makes for a state legislature full of mad-eyed extremists in a state that otherwise has surprising numbers of reasonable citizens.

This leads to a situation in which the minority party will almost always have an effective veto power during budgeting sessions.  With the self-segregation and gerrymandering this creates a situation in which compromise between parties is discouraged and the end result is gridlock where obstructionist politicians of the minority party are often re-elected by their districts because they are so visibly “fighting” the “opposition”.  And this is just the problems with the representative portion; there are problems inherent to direct democracy as well:

Representative democracy is only one half of California’s peculiar governance system. The other half, direct democracy, fails just as badly. California is one of 24 states that allow referendums, recalls and voter initiatives. But it is the only state that does not allow its legislature to override successful initiatives (called “propositions”) and has no sunset clauses that let them expire. It also uses initiatives far more, and more irresponsibly, than any other state.

On the surface, this seems like a good thing; if the people directly approve a proposition, then why should the legislature be allowed to overturn it?  My own answer has to do with the classic “bread and circuses” theory, and The Economist tends to substantiate this:

The minority of eligible Californians who vote not only send extremists to Sacramento, but also circumscribe what those representatives can do by deciding many policies directly. It is the voters who decide, for instance, to limit legislators’ terms in office, to mandate prison terms for criminals, to withdraw benefits from undocumented immigrants, to spend money on trains or sewers, or to let Indian tribes run casinos.

Through such “ballot-box budgeting”, a large share of the state’s revenues is spoken for before budget negotiations even begin. “The voters get mad when they vote to spend a ton of money and the legislature can’t then find the money,” says Jean Ross of the California Budget Project, a research outfit in Sacramento. Indeed, voters being mad is the one constant; the only proposition that appears certain to pass on May 19th would punish legislators with pay freezes in budget-deficit years.

OK, so people tend to pass legislation that is ultimately worthless for the practical purposes of running a state.  So what?  Isn’t government supposed to give the people what they want anyway?  And aren’t voter referendums the most distilled form of the people’s will?  Turns out that they’re not:

It is not ordinary citizens but rich tycoons from Hollywood or Silicon Valley, or special interests such as unions for prison guards, teachers or nurses, that bankroll most initiatives onto the ballots.


But at least the initiatives are clear and easily understood unlike the language in most bills passed by legislatures, right?

Propositions tend to be badly worded, with double negatives that leave some voters thinking they voted for something when they really voted against. One eloquent English teacher in Los Angeles recently called a radio show complaining that, after extensive study, she could not understand the ballot measures on grounds of syntax.


posted by Zenmervolt at 08:37  

Friday, June 12, 2009

For guidance, we should look to Europe

This has been a rallying cry of many left-of-center politicos.  Look to Europe for guidance.  Look at how the European Union has been a model of cooperation and of leftist ideology.  Look at how Europeans handed a resounding defeat to leftist candidates.  Wait, what?

Turns out that the end result of leftist policy is an eventual return to the right.  So yes, we should look to Europe for guidance.  If we do, perhaps we can bypass the mistakes of liberal fiscal policy that are only going to bring us right back to our starting point.

posted by Zenmervolt at 07:20  

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On the existence of natural rights

It is perhaps inevitable that when the subject of universal health care comes up proponents of this scheme bring up the idea that to deny universal health care is to deny, “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  On the surface, this seems legitimate.  After all, being sick isn’t very lively or liberating and it doesn’t make people happy.

There is a basic flaw in this reasoning, however.  Not merely the issue of misunderstanding the fact that the phrase refers not to a guarantee of comfort or of fairness, but rather a declaration that, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are facets of existence that a government should never be allowed, through positive action, to infringe upon.  It’s not even the fundamental misunderstanding of just what it means to mandate that one person pay to support another.

Money, any property actually, is nothing more or less than a person’s life.  Every piece of property that we obtain, whether it be monetary or physical, is nothing more or less than a piece of that person’s life.  All property represents the amount of time and effort that was sacrificed to obtain that property.  We voluntarily trade portions of out lives to our employers for our pay; ultimately time and our own efforts are our only capital and all other mediums of exchange are nothing more than proxies that facilitate a more convenient exchange of our time and effort.

Because of this, any non-optional monetary sacrifice (almost universally achieved through taxation) necessarily represents a deprivation of the sacrificer’s life and liberty.  Any sacrifice is by its nature a denial of one’s own rights. If such sacrifice is compulsory, those rights cannot be said to exist in the first place. If the sacrifice of some is _mandated_ (at the point of a gun, as all governmental mandates ultimately are), then it negates the very rights that one claims to seek to protect.

Which leads us to the ultimate misunderstanding; the idea that there so-called unalienable rights exist in the first place.  The phrase as used in the declaration of independence is nothing more than poetry.  When it all comes out in the end, Robert Heinlein is right; “a human being has no natural rights of any nature.”  Heinlein’s character Lt. Col. Jean V. Dubois said as much to his students.  When challenged by a student who asked, “Sir? How about ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”, Lt. Col. Dubois responded with what may well be the best refutation of the continued misunderstanding of that classic phrase:

Ah, yes, the ‘unalienable rights.’ Each year someone quotes that magnificent poetry. Life? What ‘right to life’ has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’? As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.

“The third ‘right’? — the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable, but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives — but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it.

posted by Zenmervolt at 21:53  

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Politics

Some musings on a CSN concert I saw last night. Why do so many gifted performers feel the need to bring up politics when they’re on stage? Rock-n-rollers, actors accepting awards, classical pianists, etc–a considerable number feel the need to use the spotlight (justly earned, in most circumstances) to vent their political frustrations. Jay Nordlinger wrote something about this a while back; unfortunately I haven’t been able to find his piece to link to it, but his displeasure with the practice mimics my own.  Our basic gripe is that the audience members haven’t shown up to hear political commentary from generally uninformed and unoriginal political observers; they’re there to hear Suite Judy Blue Eyes or Rachmaninoff’s Third or whatever.  Invariably, a significant portion of the audience isn’t going to identify with whatever political gripe is being aired, so it just makes the whole atmosphere slightly uncomfortable and can infect an otherwise memorable show.  Public artistic performances, in my view, should generally remain free from political commentary, unless the show is intended to be political in nature.  To be sure, I expect CSN, like any Woodstock-era band, to play their share of make-love-not-war songs; that’s part of their identity.  But I could do without the commentary between songs and all the crass anti-Bush stickers plastered on their sound equipment.  Just play, man.

By the way, I’ve never heard any performer interrupt his or her show with conservative commentary, which isn’t too surprising, given the political bent of the elite performance industry.  But my criticism would still apply to anyone who started quoting Milton Friedman or Edmund Burke between songs.

Nevertheless, a great show.  They played a lot of covers during their first set which were a lot of fun, including the best version of Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” I’ve ever heard.  No doubt, Crosby, Stills, and Nash have still got it.  Steven Stills’ voice deserts him at times, but the trio can still pull off the finest vocal harmonies that rock has ever seen.  Do yourself a favor and see them perform Southern Cross live sometime before you die.

A final thought: putting aside the fact that Graham Nash is a Brit, has there ever been a greater American rock and roll band/artist than CSN?  We mulled over quite a few contenders on the way home – Eagles, Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, Creedence –  but we only came up with three we’d put above CSN:  Dylan, Elvis, and the Beach Boys.  Always blows my mind to think how foreigners have dominated the top spots in the classic rock pantheon:  Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Floyd, Clapton, Hendrix…Brits, every one of em.  Van Morrison was Irish.  Neil Young and The Band were Canadian.  Curious.

posted by Strix nebulosa at 07:15  

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Legitimate reasons to question Sotomayor

While the fact that Sotomayor is, at most, an average legal mind is itself sufficient to warrant concern over her nomination to the Supreme Court, there are certainly other reasons to oppose her nomination.  As a counter to some of the knee-jerk conservative accusations of “ultra-liberalism” on Sotomayor’s part, I’m going to actually walk through some of the issues that I feel should, at the very least, be causes for concern:

  1. Her decision in Maloney v. Cuomo.  This ruling stated that the recent case of Heller v. District of Columbia did not invalidate Presser v. Illinois and did not incorporate the Second Amendment.  I cannot see any defensible logic that would read the Heller decision as anything other than and incorporation of the Second Amendment and it is shocking to me that someone who has been nominated for the Supreme Court could interpret the Heller decision so poorly.

    While this was a per curiam decision, and therefore we do not officially know which of the Second Circuit’s justices wrote the actual opinion, Sotomayor was on the panel and per curiam decisions represent unanimous opinion, so one is forced to conclude that Sotomayor agrees fully with the published opinion.

  2. In 2002 Sotomayor made the following comment during a speech at the UC Berkeley School of Law:

    I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion (as a judge) than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

    Even allowing for the fact that Sotomayor was undoubtedly speaking in generalities so as to present a more appealing speech, this is a disturbing statement.  One has only to swap the position of the terms “Latina woman” and “white male” within the sentence to see the inherent low-level racism in the comment.

    Worse, however, is the tacit implication that life experiences are a valid source of judicial insight.  This cannot be interpreted as anything other than an endorsement of the concept of Judicial Activism.  This is not a good thing.  The role of judges is to determine what the law actually says about an issue; judicial activism suggests that judges base their ruling on what they think the law should say, effectively giving justices legislative powers and circumventing the system of checks and balances that were built into the constitution.

  3. Her opinion in Ricci v. DeStefano.  Here we have another per curiam decision and again there are troubling issues.  A competency test was devised and vetted by outside agencies; people made significant sacrifices to study for the test as they were told that success would allow them to be considered for advancement in their careers; when the testing was complete, the results were throw out because, despite equality of opportunity, the outcome was not what the testing entity desired.  Sotomayor was involved in the panel’s unanimous per curiam decision which upheld the right of the testing entity to throw out the results.

    What is interesting to me here is that in both instances of controversial decisions we see Sotomayor hiding behind per curiam decisions.  In a per curiam decision, the decision’s author is not revealed which obscures insight into the individual legal decisions weighing on the minds of the individual judges.

  4. That 2002 speech in Berkeley again:

    Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar.

    Pardon me?  The facts that a judge chooses to see?  Chooses?  This is incredibly disturbing to me and should be to anyone who gives the issue any thought at all.  Judges do not get to choose which facts they see.  It is the responsibility of a Judge to see all facts and to render unbiased opinions.  Liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, no-one should ever be content with a judge who picks and chooses which facts of a case to consider and which facts to ignore.

Clearly, there are valid reasons to be concerned about Sotomayer as a Supreme Court justice that go beyond mere partisan hackery.

posted by Zenmervolt at 08:13  

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Yay! Republicans aren’t *complete* idiots

The Republican Party has announced that they are dropping plans to re-brand the Democratic Party as the “Democrat Socialist Party” in the wake of massive criticism both internal and external.  I guess the party might not be mostly stupid after all.

posted by Zenmervolt at 19:47  

Monday, May 18, 2009

Coming together on Abortion

Pastor Bill Shuler of the Capitol Life Church in Arlington, Virginia gives us a list of ten questions upon which, he claims, “we should be able to come together,” meaning that, in his eyes, we should all agree on his points.  Let’s take a look at his list and see if his claims are justified.

  1. Can we agree that the number of abortions needs to be reduced?
    No, we cannot because there is no consensus on the precise definition of “need” in this instance.  From a purely secular viewpoint, the only “need” is to preserve the ability of a society to function and there is no compelling evidence to suggest that the current abortion rate is in any way impairing the ability of society to function.  In fact, as Steven Levitt points out in his book, “Freakonomics”, there is at least some evidence to suggest that our current abortion rate is actually improving society’s ability to function. If a person is of the opinion that a government’s only responsibility is to provide a stable society on a secular level, then there cannot be a true perception of any “need” to reduce the number of abortions that is based on pure rationality.  This question presupposes that the opposition believes that governmental protection of life is important in and of itself rather than purely as a means of promoting social stability.

    Now, if the question is re-phrased as, “Can we agree that it would be preferable to minimize abortions?”, then I believe the answer could reasonably be “yes”.  However, as long as the word “need” is used, agreement is not possible.
  2. Can we border on caution when it comes to the question of when life begins?
    Carried out to an admittedly absurd degree, choosing “caution” in this question could result in the decision that life begins with the creation of individual gametes well before any potential zygote is created.  I admit that under this definition masturbation (in males) and menstruation (in females) would be, technically, murder since both involve the destruction of gametes that, again technically, contain the potential for human life. Still, I understand Shuler’s thrust with this point and I agree that there is a valid sentiment here.  It is possible to construct a secular argument that, since a fertilized egg (zygote) has a sufficiently reasonable chance of developing into a viable fetus it should therefore be treated as “alive” in the legal sense.  This is open to argument on the grounds that medical estimates suggest that anywhere between 50% and 70% of zygotes never make it to full term (for natural reasons).  That opposition can be countered through examples of other laws (e.g. drunk driving prohibitions) that restrict actions that are not guaranteed to be causative.

    In any case, at this point there is at least a legitimate and secular discussion possible and we have proven an ability to build a case against abortion that does not rest strictly on emotional/theological/moral grounds.
  3. Can we agree that inconvenience is not a proper reason for an abortion?
    Again, from a strict secular position, I don’t think this is an area where agreement can legitimately be expected.  Who defines “inconvenience”?  Is one month of bed-rest a mere “inconvenience” or is it something above and beyond?  How about two months?  Three?  I would agree that there are valid arguments against using abortion as a primary means of birth control (e.g. in lieu of condoms or the pill) inasmuch as abortion is more invasive and more likely to cause complications for the woman as well, but that’s not the only thing implied by “inconvenience”.

    What of couples who use a condom or the pill (or even both) and still conceive?  Is an abortion still a mere “convenience” then?  From a purely secular view these questions are not easily answered.  A rational discussion is certainly possible, but again this seems to be a clear case where, as the saying goes, honorable men may differ.
  4. Can we speak to those of an opposite viewpoint without using hate speech?
    Absolutely.  But this is a two-way street and someone needs to get the message out to the people who think it’s acceptable to bomb clinics or harass doctors who perform abortions.
  5. Can we choose to promote a culture of life?
    What is a “culture of life”?  Is it a culture in which the needs of people who have been raped are considered?  Is a a culture in which the needs of those whose life is at risk from carrying a pregnancy to term are considered?  The term “culture of life” is a pleasant-sounding platitude but it’s not a meaningful definition of anything.  The only purpose is to create the (patently false) impression that our current culture is somehow a “culture of death”.  Empty rhetorical devices such as this do nothing to improve an argument’s perception.
  6. Can we encourage adoption, recognizing the many parents who would love and cherish a baby?
    Absolutely.  But does this question imply that adoption is somehow currently discouraged?  Because I don’t believe that is true.  Most people, even those who support legalized abortion, already agree that adoption is preferable in cases where there are no extenuating circumstances (e.g. mother’s health in danger, rape, etc) but that doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that abortion should be reduced in availability as an option.
  7. Can we help teens see that abstinence is the best option and clearest way to avoid STDs, regret and abortions?
    I don’t think that there is any teen of at least moderate intelligence who doesn’t know, intellectually, that abstinence is the single most effective means of preventing STDs and pregnancy.  However, to promote abstinence-only plans is to willfully disregard reality.  Educating teens about their options in addition to abstinence is a necessary component of sex education and we ignore it at our own peril.
  8. Can we agree that there is no greater gift than life?
    Calling life a “gift” presupposes a religious, or at least “spiritual”, understanding of the universe.  To a purely secular mind, life is an “occurrence” and not a “gift” because life is not conceived of as being “bestowed” upon an entity by any supernatural force.  This statement is meaningless when addressing a secular audience.
  9. Can we agree that this is ultimately an issue that transcends politics?
    Unarguably it does.  Which is precisely why it should remain legal.  Politics are concerned exclusively with a country’s secular existence.  If the arguments against abortion are primarily religious, ethical, or moral in nature then they are irrelevant to legal and political decisions.  If there are cogent secular arguments against abortion, they should, by all means, be considered.  However, if opposition to abortion depends upon religious principles then it is reckless to an extreme degree to allow those religious convictions to become codified in secular law.
  10. Can we agree that you and I wouldn’t be able to have an opinion on this issue if we had been aborted?
    Cute, but far from anything resembling a cogent secular argument.

To be sure, I am personally opposed to abortion and, were I asked for counsel by a woman who was considering one, would recommend adoption instead assuming that the woman’s life was not in danger and that her pregnancy was not the result of a rape.  Neither do I believe that the government should directly fund the practice.  However, I likewise do not believe that I would be right to impose my own morality upon others in the absence of a valid secular reason to do so and, so far, I have found no compelling secular argument against the practice of abortion.  I don’t like that I haven’t, but the truth is often uncomfortable like that.

posted by Zenmervolt at 10:35  

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ready! Set! Lose!

Jesus H. Christ on a bike RNC, are you actively trying to make every conservative sound like a raving lunatic?  A resolution to “re-brand” the Democrats as the “Democrat Socialist Party” is worth convening a special session?  It’s not even worth entertaining as an option!

If you really want to criticise the current administration, you should be looking to George Will, not to Joseph McCarthy.  Leave the name-calling to children and grow the hell up.  Anyone who thinks this recent resolution is a good thing is an idiot.  At the very least, Michael Steele gets it when he says that this resolution, “will accomplish little than to give the media and our opponents the opportunity to mischaracterize Republicans.”

Of course, like any voice of reason within the current Republican party, Steele, despite his position, has effectively no influence.

As far as my own suggestion, how about we stop worrying about what to call the Democrats and simply limit ourselves to proposing fiscally-responsible alternatives.  I’m thinking that will work just a little better than continuing our own fiscal incontinence while childishly calling the other party names.

And, to everyone who thinks I’m being cowardly and that we shouldn’t give two shits about how the media portrays Republicans as a result of this resolution, I have this response:  If it doesn’t matter what our opponents call us, then why the HELL does it matter what we call them?  This isn’t about “calling a spade a spade” or “bravely telling the truth”.  This is about a group of sore losers engaging in an ideological circle-jerk and it’s not even close to a productive use of the party’s resources.

Hat tip to The Right Wing Nuthouse.

posted by Zenmervolt at 10:29  

Friday, May 15, 2009

Posner on the Decline of Conservative Intellectualism

Richard Posner (for non-lawyers, America’s most famous judge not on the Supreme Court) describes the decline of the role of intellectuals in the modern conservative movement. Posner’s post is worth reading in full for its interesting historical synopsis of twentieth century conservatism, but here is the crux of his argument:

My theme is the intellectual decline of conservatism, and it is notable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largely failed in execution, and are political flops is therefore unsurprising. The major blows to conservatism, culminating in the election and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure of military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanity of trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of management and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.

By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.

I think there is a lot to unpack here, so let me take Posner’s four major criticisms in reverse order. First, “fiscal incontinence”: there’s no arguing with this one. Republicans are guilty as hell, and I think Posner is correct to identify the party’s increasingly populist timbre as the root cause of its abandonment of fiscal conservatism (perhaps it’s not a cause; the two are just the mirror images of one another). At any rate, we’ve screwed this one up. It’s time to own up to this mistake and return to first principles. But let’s be clear here: there is nothing wrong with the principles themselves. The basic philosophy of fiscal conservatism is still sound (indeed, it’s the only fiscal philosophy that is sound, in my view). We’ve simply paid inadequate attention to those principles.

Second, “preoccupation with abortion.” This one is trickier. I’m not convinced that opposition to abortion was any less central to the conservative movement forty years ago (when conservatism, according to Posner, was legitimately idea-driven) than it is today. Roe v. Wade was a lighting rod for criticism as soon as it was handed down. Now, perhaps the pro-life position did not become genuinely associated with political conservatism until Reagan built his coalition of economic and social conservatives. But the point is this: there are and always have been an awful lot of people in this country that believe that abortion is murder. One cannot dismiss such concern for human life as a mere political “preoccupation” that gets in the way of more pressing matters. Since when was opposition to abortion an anti-intellectual, populist position? Basically, I think Posner is too quick to lump the abortion issue with the all-too-real, growing economic populism of the conservative movement. Perhaps the tenor of the pro-life movement has become more populist over the years, but I still think it is only loosely related to economic populism (with which true conservatives should be genuinely concerned).

Third, the substitution of will for intellect. I might quarrel with Posner as a descriptive matter on this one. I’m not sure any of the examples he gives (denial of global warming, use of religious criteria in political appointments, and general lack of governmental expertise) are really characteristic, mainstream features of the modern conservative movement. Certainly they’re not part of the philosophy of conservatism. To the extent that some Republicans have exhibited these characteristics, I would be the first to condemn them. Denial of science and ineptness of public officials (like reckless fiscal policies) are not conservative principles.

Finally, the “failure of military force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives.” This criticism is susceptible to two interpretations: (1) using military force to attempt to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives is a really bad idea, or (2) it’s not necessarily a bad idea, but where we’ve used military force, we have executed poorly. In either case, I think Posner is wrong on multiple levels. We’re winning in Iraq, period. Success has taken awhile, to be sure, in no small part due to the Bush administration’s short-sightedness of what regime change in Iraq would actually mean, but I think it is hard to deny that the Iraq war has turned into a painful, costly success. We are on the verge of drawing down our troops and leaving a democratic, moderately stable Iraq. That is an enormous boon to our foreign policy interests in the globe’s most critical region. I do not see how such a policy – in principle or eventual execution – can be characterized as a failure. What is more, the architects of the successful surge strategy were neocon nerds like Frederick Kagan. Indeed, neoconservatism has always been driven by intellectuals; it can hardly be called a populist movement. In short, I think Posner erred in including the neoconservative agenda on his list of “major blows” to conservatism, both because it has worked, and because it is certainly not an anti-intellectual position.

To review the bidding: Posner’s critique of conservatism’s recent fiscal irresponsibility is legitimate, but the problem is indicative of neglect of core conservative principles, rather than of a fundamental flaw in the principles themselves; his concern with the preeminence of the abortion issue is unrealistic; his concern with the substitution of will for intellect is overstated; and his concern with the neoconservative foreign policy agenda is flat wrong. The lesson, in my mind, is that conservatives who wish to remain true to the movement’s traditional principles should focus their energy on stopping the recent slide toward economic populism. If we succeed there, then we’ll give ourselves the luxury of bickering among ourselves and with the liberals about all the rest.

posted by Strix nebulosa at 06:09  
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